Bechdel! NZ Police Recruitment video

If your script begins with “We open on our hero female police woman leading a team into action”, you’ve kicked things off well. Freeze! NZ Police Recruitment Video manages to be aspirational, informative, entertaining (a much-neglected quality) and stereotype-shattering all at once. The police aren’t characterised as a bunch of aggressive, donut-eating white blokes, but rather as fit, community-focused, and ethnically-diverse women and men. No one is stereotyped to dumb things down for the audience, and no one is objectified when the action needs to slow down. Well, no one, except for maybe this guy:

Good sunglasses, bruz.

This spot is a real feat of bravery: you can imagine just how shite this spot could have been in the hands of any other nervy government client. So many stakeholders would have had to sign off on this thing, it’s a miracle it is as good as it is, and that they trusted the agency to cast badass women (real po-po were the talent too) to lead the narrative. Great clients leading great work. And no one wrote a press release clapping themselves on the back for how ethnically- and gender-inclusive the spot is. They just did it because, to echo Trudeau: it’s 2017.

I’ll end things by quoting the magnificent Lee Clow: “Don’t interrupt the thing that interest people. Be the thing that interests people.” This spot is interesting beyond its entertainment value: it takes every last boring stereotype about police, and flips them on their arse, giving us a reason to watch, care, and share.

Gravity Bechdel.

Have you seen Playstation’s award-winning spot ‘Gravity Cat’ yet?
If you haven’t, go watch now. I’ll wait for you here: Playstation ‘Gravity Cat’

Excellent, yes? Two sisters are studying physics in their apartment, when they suddenly experience what life is like when the laws of gravity don’t play by the rules. Oh, and there’s an adorable, trouble-making, ceiling-walking kitten there too. Need a viral script? Just add cat.

Gravity Cat passes the Campaign Bechdel test on several fronts. Firstly, these women have a clear narrative arc of their own, totally interdependent of a man (unless that cat is a boy cat…), and don’t exist to support anyone else’s story but their own. They aren’t cleaning, or doing duck face pouts into their phones when the spot opens; instead we see that they’re much more interested in Newton’s Law of Physics. Bye-bye stereotypes! The two female leads understandably freak when gravity goes haywire, but the spot ends with them floating in the sky outside of their apartment, the city on the upside down horizon, and a look of empowerment and adventure on their faces as they wait to see what gravity does next.

Play on, Playstation. Two paws up.

The Bechdel, the Merrier.

Aldi’s new Christmas campaign is quite a creative feat: ‘Dig in Doug’ doesn’t feature a single product shot til the last third of the spot. Praise be, retailers! Unfortunately, Doug doesn’t rate well on Campaign Bechdel.

The 90 second TVC tells the story of Doug, a stubborn batsman whose backyard cricket innings draws spectators from far and wide. Eventually the lure of the spread proves too much for Doug, who gives up the cricket to dig into Christmas lunch. Said Christmas lunch is presented by Doug’s nameless, long-suffering and telegenically doting wife, who holds the Aldi Ham like an ageing Price Is Right model, finally enticing him away from cricket long enough to care about all her hard work putting Christmas lunch together in the first place. Wifey is unnamed, represented in a stereotypically domestic gender role, and exists narratively as just Doug’s support on his heroic journey to selfishly play cricket while the women take care of lunch for the ad’s 500 extras.

Ba-bow, Aldi. This wasn’t Good Different at all.

Aldi ‘Dig in Doug’

Why does Campaign Bechdel exist?

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With 80% of all purchase decisions made by women, you’d think brands would put more energy towards better depicting women in their advertising.

Most TVCs are only 30 seconds long, so you can understand why clichès and stereotypes fill our screens: it’s story-telling shorthand. However, this is problematic when stereotypes become norms. Women in ads are often: one-dimensional, objectified, stereotyped, or inserted into the story solely to support the male character’s journey.

These are the facts, as per
• Women are 4 times more likely than men to not have a speaking role
• Women are 3 times more likely than men to be presented as a product user rather than an authority
• Women are 3.5 times more likely than men to be presented in a domestic environment (vs. at work)
• Women were 2 times more likely than men to be associated with domestic products like body care and home goods.

Brands can better connect with women and their wallets when they pass the Campaign Bechdel test. This test is an amalgamation of Bechdel and Mako Mori tests, and is tailored to the short-form storytelling mandatories of advertising by including recommendations from the research done by Passing the Campaign Bechdel test isn’t a guarantee of rounded female characterisation, but is indicative of at least a basic level of female agency and independence outside her value as determined by men.

Why is this important? Objectification of women and entrenched stereotypes about gender roles and norms lead to gender inequality. If you think women and men should have equal rights and opportunities, then gender equal representation in the media is one (very effective and very salient) way brands, agencies, and production companies can mirror the kind of gender equal society they want to see in the world.

One final word: Campaign Bechdel isn’t intended to rate the creativity or enjoyability of an ad. As with Baby Driver or the tv show Friends, it is possible for content to be both entertaining and problematic all at once.